Tag Archives: postcards

The digital team reflects on Valentine’s Day

We here in the digital lab have conflicted feelings about today’s holiday.  So we’ve pulled images from our collection that express a variety of  viewpoints about romance and Valentine’s Day. Valentine’s cards in the mid-19th century and Stanley Kubrick’s  images of teenagers canoodling on a fire escape  in the 1940’s show that New York is the place to be in love. (But just in case you don’t agree with that last sentence, we have images for you too.)

Our collection of vintage Valentine’s Day cards  runs the gamut from the sweetly violent….

Comic Valentine card. ca. 1920. Museum of the City of New York. 03.49.1

to the quad-lingual (what a lucky girl Miss Louise Horn was)…..

Valentine: Eternal Love. 1847. Museum of the City of New York. 31.18.19.

to the faintly seductive.

Greeting card. ca. 1880. Museum of the City of New York. 38.8.262.

Moving beyond greeting cards to real people,  here are some more  images of love, from Bohemians to Bobby Soxers.

Jessie Tarbox Beals. Couple standing near fountain in Greenwich Village. ca. 1915. Museum of the City of New York. 94.104.862

Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999). Park Benches - Love is Everywhere.1946. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.10347.11.

And if you don’t find anything to love about Valentine’s Day, these could be more your speed.

Advice to Girls About to Marry - get used to this language when you tell him you want a new hat. ca. 1905. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.34.582.

James Henderson (Firm). Single One, Married One - "Lucky Dog". ca. 1895. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.34.560.

Currier & Ives. "No One to Love Me." 1880. Museum of the City of New York. 56.300.603.

Photographing the Postcard Collection

Allyson photographing postcards.

Ever wonder how much work goes into digitizing a collection for view on our Collections Portal?  Here at MCNY, the digital team has been hard at work numbering, shooting, and cataloging our collection of 7,691 New York City postcards.   It took about 20 days of photography shooting 400 to 600 postcards each day.  After imaging, the files are sent to our catalogers who research information such as location, date, and publisher. The keywords they apply allow the images to be searchable in our database and online.

Our postcard collection ranges from the 1890s through the 1990s, with particular strength in the early 1900s, when a postcard craze swept the nation, as explained by the Metropolitan Postcard Club of New York City:

An accumulation of factors led to an explosion in the popularity of postcards during these years. The American middle class had grown much larger in size, and the excess money it had to spend on nonessential goods was enough to support a large industry […] Photography and printing technology had also advanced to a point that enabled high quality images to be produced in tremendous numbers and they were. Card dealers began to outnumber booksellers. Over 7 billion postcards were mailed worldwide in 1905, almost one billion in the United States alone; and this does not account for those that ended up in collections rather than the mailbox.

The images include popular tourist subjects such as aerial views of  lower Manhattan and major landmarks, but also incorporate some eccentric imagery and views outside of Manhattan,  like the three examples below.

Greetings from the Bronx, ca. 1910. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.34.1795.

Central Park Menagerie. Feeding a Snake, New York, 1905-1914. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.34.1588.

Kings County Jail, Raymond Street, ca. 1915. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.34.1823.

While most of these were purchased as traveler’s cards to be sent to family and friends back home, quite a few were actually sent within New York City  limits.  In an age before you could just send a quick text or email, postcards were a fast and informal way to get in touch with someone who did not yet own a telephone.

Capturing some of the postcards in a digital format proved challenging.  Most were the standard 3 1/2″ by 5″ but some were specialty fold out postcards. Here is an example of a particularly complicated one.  This was a folded paper postcard from the 1939 World’s Fair. When expanded and viewed through a hole in the front of the card, the viewer sees a three dimensional landscape.  Our photographers found that the best way to capture the view was to tie the postcard underneath the lens and allow it hang open while being photographed.

View captured through the lens. New York World's Fair, 1939. Museum of the City of New York. F2011.33.2119.

Front cover of the postcard - by looking through the cutout one can view the telescoping image.

Several other postcards include special fold-out sections that provide a view of the New York City skyline.

Irving Underhill (d. 1960). New York Skyline, 1900. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.34.3006.

As an added enticement to the consumer, postcard companies often hand applied tinseling or glitter to the views to enliven the image – often incongruously, as in this bedazzled depiction of Grant’s Tomb.

General U. S Grant Monument & Tomb, New York, ca. 1910. Museum of the City of New York. F2011.33.14.

Not every postcard showed exciting and interesting places such as Coney Island and the Empire State Building; here is a postcard showing the Metropolitan Life Insurance Co.’s new women’s lunch room:

Lunch room, Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, ca. 1910. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.34.325.

One of our favorite postcards is this multiple choice “busy person’s correspondence card” showing the Empire State Building.

Empire State Building at Night, New York City, 1934-1940. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.34.3492.

We are in the process of uploading the postcard collection to the Portal. Look for it online in the next week or two.

The Age of Innocence?

Before I started cataloging postcards, I thought I had a fairly good idea of what was in store for me: numerous souvenir type views of the greatest hits of everything New York City. After cataloging nearly a thousand postcards, this does make up a vast majority of our collection, but what I definitely did not expect was being fascinated by melodramatic, turn-of-the-century  images of love and romance. In these postcards, the longing, confusion, and excitement of summer romances and relationship dramas are brilliantly encapsulated. 

Life Publishing Co. | Detroit Publishing Co. When the Hunting Season Opens. Charles Dana Gibson. 1900. X2011.34.583.

Life Publishing Co. | Detroit Publishing Co. The Dog: Here he has been hanging around us for a month, and we leave to-night. Charles Dana Gibson. 1893. X2011.34.578.

Summer love is not a new trend–vacations, beaches, warm weather sports, and girls in bathing suits have always held appeal. Many of these postcards are images originally drawn by Charles Dana Gibson, an illustrator for Life Magazine, who is credited for the creation of the “Gibson Girl” – the tall, gorgeous, corset-clad, bouffant-haired women who epitomized the ideal of beauty in the early parts of the 20th century. These images show summer love at its best, and the heartbreak that comes when Labor Day arrives.

Life Publishing Co. | Detroit Publishing Co. Here it is Christmas and they began saying good-bye in August. Charles Dana Gibson. 1901. X2011.34.581.

As a contrast to the summer loves of Gibson Girls are the slightly darker, both literally and figuratively, postcards by William Balfour Ker, who was also an illustrator for Life Magazine. From hesitation to making the first move, to what appears to be the beginning of an affair, these scenes make it clear that the beginning of the 20th century was just as scandalous as today.

Life Publishing Co. | Detroit Publishing Co. That Horrible Moment - when, having had the nerve to turn down the light, you find that you haven't the nerve to make the next move. William Balfour Ker. 1906. X2011.34.594.

Life Publishing Co. | Detroit Publishing Co. Another Monopoly. William Balfour Ker. 1899. X2011.34.569.